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Saving Time on Routine, Multistep Tasks by Running PDF Actions

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Who doesn’t want to work smarter, not harder, during the workday? Lots of us use PDF files in one way or another to convey information. Adobe expert Brian Wood shows you how to use PDF actions to simplify and automate your work and create that perfect PDF “experience.”
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Who doesn’t want to work smarter, not harder, during the workday? Lots of us use PDF files in one way or another to convey information. And to make that PDF “experience” the best that it can be (easier to navigate, open, etc.), we open our PDF files in Acrobat and add things like buttons, links, remove sensitive information, add security, set option options, and much more. Creating that PDF experience can add up to extra time taken out of your day. What if you could automate that process, especially when you have to apply the same settings to several or hundreds of PDF files? You can. Acrobat X Pro (sorry, this feature is not available in Acrobat X Standard) has opened the door and made it easier to automate that repetitive process by creating PDF actions using the Action Wizard.

PDF actions are sort of like macros in Microsoft Word or Actions in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. You can create a list of tasks (called steps in the action), such as adding security, and “run” or apply that list of tasks to a series of PDF files. These actions are saved within Acrobat so anytime you open the program, they are there to use unless you delete them. Actions aren’t new in Acrobat. They’ve been in Acrobat as Batch Processing for many versions, but they’ve been enhanced in Acrobat X and made more accessible, like everything else.

In this article, I take you through the process of using an existing PDF action, because Acrobat comes with a list of default actions. Then, you’ll learn how to create your own and even share them with others. So, assuming you have a PDF created and want to add something to it like security or initial view options (two examples of many things you can add), let’s get started.

Applying a Default Action

When you open Acrobat X Pro, you will see the new interface staring you in the face. If you’re new to Acrobat, welcome. Most things are easier to find and more accessible in this latest version. Now, suppose that you have a project you are working on, like a monthly e-newsletter, that is sent out or posted on a website as a PDF. You have to ensure that it opens properly, shows bookmarks, has sensitive data removed, has security, and more. Well, instead of doing that every time this project rolls around, you can simply employ the Acrobat actions.

Let’s start by opening them up and taking a look at what we’ve got:

  1. In Acrobat X Pro, with no PDF files open, choose View > Tools > Action Wizard. You will see the Action Wizard task pane appear on the right side of the workspace.
  2. In the Action Wizard task pane, you will see two main options (buttons): Create New Action and Edit Actions. You will also see a list of default actions that come with Acrobat listed in the Actions area (see Figure 1). You can run a default action on a document or a set of documents, you can edit an existing action, or you can create your own. The actions you create or edit are saved in Acrobat so that the next time you want to use them they will be available in the Action Wizard task pane.

    Figure 1 The Action Wizard task pane

    Figure 2 Add the Create New Action and Edit Actions options to the Quick Tools

    Now that you’ve seen where the actions live and have seen the options available, you will run a default action to get a feel for how they work.

  3. In the Action Wizard task pane, click Prepare for Distribution in the Actions list.
  4. The Action: Prepare for Distribution dialog box will appear (see Figure 3). This dialog box gives you an overview of what the action does (the Description), what files it will start with (the Start With information), a list of steps that will be taken on the selected files (the Steps), and where the resulting files(s) will be saved (Save To). Because this is a default action, all of this has been pre-determined. Click Next.

    Figure xx-xx

    Figure 3 The Action dialog box

    Because there are no open files, the Select Files dialog box opens, prompting you to select a series of files on which to run the action.

  5. In the Select Files dialog box, click Add Files and choose to add a series of files, a folder, or multiple folders of files, or email attachments (from Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook). After selecting the files and returning to the Select Files dialog box, click Next (see Figure 4). If you only chose one file on which to run the action, the action will begin processing and you can skip step 4. Otherwise, proceed to step 4.
  6. Figure 4 Select files on which run the action

  7. In the Browse for Folder dialog box that appears, choose a folder in which to save the resulting PDF files (see Figure 5). If you choose the same folder as the original PDF files (if you chose PDF files in the last step), then they will be overwritten. Click OK.
  8. Figure 5 Browse for a folder in which to save the resulting PDFs

This is where the real fun begins. The list of actions that you saw earlier when you clicked the Prepare for Distribution action will be applied to the PDF files, one at a time, in the order in which you saw them. There are a few things to keep in mind as you go through an action:

  • If you click Cancel in a dialog box for a step in the action, another dialog box will appear asking if you want to quit the action. Clicking Cancel in this dialog box will return you to the action steps (see Figure 6).
  • Figure 6 Cancel the action

  • A progress window displays the action status, task status, and instructions. You can click the “X” in the progress window to stop processing. You can then click Quit in the confirmation dialog box. Acrobat would save any files that have already been processed as defined in the action. When the progress window closes, the Action Cancelled dialog box would show any errors or warnings (see Figure 7).
  • Figure 7 The progress window

  • For certain action steps (such as adding bookmarks in this action), the action pauses and asks you to add bookmarks using Acrobat tools (see Figure 7). Once you are finished adding bookmarks, for instance, you will need to click When Completed, Proceed to the Next Step in the progress window that appears in the lower–right corner of the Document window.
  • Figure 8 Click to proceed to the next step

After completing the action steps, you will see a dialog box that tells you that the action is completed. If there were any errors or warnings, they will appear in this dialog box as well. Close that dialog box.

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